What’s in store for the future of Arabic visual culture? Archief Cairo on communicating across borders

Archief Cairo is a multilingual lab for research, preservation and communication, based in the Egyptian capital. Established in 2018 by Hana Neyman, Maram El Refaei, Sherine Salla and Ryan Vicente Lee Grees, the group met at Cairo’s German University. Ryan was lecturer to both Hana and Maram, and Sherine joined the collective at a later date. It started out as an attempt to discover Cairo’s non-academic design scene from a micro-perspective using the street. Focusing on the vernacular of the every day from stickers on cars, street sounds, shop signage and even rubbish on the ground, Archief Cairo began as a documentation of the city through all five senses.
There are an abundance of archives which also influence Cairo’s design scene, a nod to the country’s bountiful history stretching back to its ancient civilisation. “So the scene is eager to understand its own identity and either reinterpret it in a modern way or mix with other cultures,” explains Maram. In turn, much of the present style is imbued with signals to the past, which in some ways, makes it easier for designers to find their own style. “We are not friends of strict demarcation,” adds Sherine, “we believe that our task as communication designers is to create communication across borders, be it across countries, continents and above all, across cultures and languages.”
“Cairo is like an antique shop and so is its creative scene” Hana tells us on the city’s rich creative sector. She notes that if you are looking for something in particular, you may not find it, “but if you you let yourself be drawn into the overflow of perceptions, you will be surprised and find something you may not have expected.” Over the past few years, the group has noticed a rise in designers popping up on the scene, contributing to Egypt’s increasing creative community centred on Arabic type.